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Do small white balls squeak? Pitch-object correspondences in young children


Adults with auditory-visual synesthesia agree that higher pitched sounds induce smaller, brighter visual percepts. We have hypothesized that these correspondences are remnants of cross-modal neural connections that are present at birth and that influence the development of perception and language even in adults and children without synesthesia. In this study, we explored these correspondences in preschoolers (30-36 months; n=12 per experiment). The children were asked to indicate which of two bouncing balls was making a centrally located sound. The balls varied in size and/or surface darkness; the sound varied in pitch. The children reliably matched the higher pitched sound to a smaller and lighter (white) ball (Experiment 1), to a lighter (white) ball (Experiment 2), and in one of two groups, to a smaller ball (Experiment 3). Children’s matching of pitch and size cannot be attributed to intensity matching or to learning. These data support the hypothesis that some cross-modal correspondences may be remnants of the neural mechanisms underlying neonatal perception.


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Correspondence to Catherine J. Mondloch.

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Mondloch, C.J., Maurer, D. Do small white balls squeak? Pitch-object correspondences in young children. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience 4, 133–136 (2004).

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  • Bright Light
  • High Pitch
  • Visual Percept
  • Intensity Match
  • High Frequency Sound